Got There. LSU Wins First NCAA Title in Fort Worth

Got There. LSU Wins First NCAA Title in Fort Worth


Got There. LSU Wins First NCAA Title in Fort Worth 

By Megan Roth, with Christy Sandmaier contributing

Focused on their season theme “Get There” the LSU Tigers made history in Fort Worth, becoming only the 8th program ever to win the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics National Championship. Having placed second four times and a top contender and favorite for the win for years, tremendous energy and excitement lit up the entire arena as the Tigers entered the history books on top. The win fulfilling a legacy secured and program built from the ground up by the legendary D-D Breaux, and ultimately carried to the finish line by head coach Jay Clark and his 2024 team in one of the most emotional and competitive finals we’ve seen to date.

With Oklahoma, the heavy favorites for the title, eliminated in the second of two Semifinals, it was truly anyone’s game Saturday with LSU, Cal, Utah and Florida each ready to grab a piece of history. 

“Every team was out there fighting for their lives and all four teams, it could have gone any of four ways out there today,” Jay Clark said. “I think as much as I feel for what happened to Oklahoma in the Semifinals, I think it made for a Championship that became so packed with emotion because every team out there believed they could do it, and it was just tremendous.”

From start to finish, it was a thrilling meet, full of feel-good moments, a few questionable scores of course, and overall the spectacular gymnastics we’ve come to love every NCAA season.

LSU started their campaign to the top on floor, their best event, posting a strong 49.6125. Some were nervous about the Tigers starting on their strongest event and ultimately ending on beam, but LSU proved them wrong from the get-go, coming out of the gates hot and continued that momentum through the rest of the meet, albeit making it interesting for sure.

The Tigers didn’t have their best vault rotation, with the front half of the lineup taking bigger steps on their vaults than normal. Rallying the second half of the lineup, their score of 49.4000 was enough to keep them in the lead by one tenth over Utah heading into the third rotation.

At the meet’s halfway mark, all four teams were within less than 0.3 points of each other. 

After Utah went lights out on floor and LSU didn’t quite get the landings they were hoping for despite stellar sets on bars, the Tigers were down by less than half a tenth to the Red Rocks heading into the final rotation.

With LSU moving to beam, Utah to vault, Cal to bars, and Florida to floor, this was still anyone’s game. In order to win the title, LSU would need to overcome any nerves in one of the most pressure-packed moments of the entire season, and ultimately trust their training and each other to get to the title.

Sierra Ballard led off LSU steady as ever, scoring 9.95, a career high for her. Savannah Schoenherr was up next and had an incredible routine going until she fell off the beam on her low to the beam choreography. She finished the routine strong, but LSU was left in a pressure situation to hit their remaining routines in order to win the national title. Kiya Johnson, Konnor McClain, and Haleigh Bryant all followed up with incredible routines. 

Johnson and Bryant scored 9.95s and McClain scored a 9.9625, the highest score of the day on any event. Last up for the Tigers was Aleah Finnegan. While Finnegan is a beautiful beam worker, she’s had bigger wobbles on her triple series a few times this season. Insead of falling to the pressure, Finnegan embraced it, putting together a near-perfect routine – one of the best we’ve ever seen. Once she nailed her series, her team lit up, cheering through her routine up until she stuck her dismount. As soon as she landed, Finnegan let the tears flow, so proud of herself and her team for being the ones to finally bring the national title back to Baton Rouge, and celebrate the win with all those who came before her.

After the meet, Finnegan said, “we’ve all worked so hard this entire season and I looked to [my teammates] before I went. We wanted this so bad. I wanted it for them and my routine was for every single one of them and everybody in this room.”

The sentiment from the Tigers was one of gratefulness, and the relief and joy that comes from achieving a longtime dream, and meeting the highest of expectations.

“This is something I’ve dreamed about since I committed to this program,” 2024 All-Around Champion and AAI Award winner Bryant said, “I’ve known Jay for so long and just wanted to be coached under him and I’m just so excited to bring this National Championship back to LSU and I’m just thankful for all of the opportunities I’ve gotten here. I’m just so, so happy and yes, it lives up to every expectation and exceeds everything.

“For me, it means everything and more,” said Kiya Johnson. After tearing her Achilles tendon early in the 2023 season, Johnson made an incredible comeback in her fifth year, competing in the All-Around in the majority of meets, helping LSU finish the regular season ranked second in the NCAA, and leading the Tigers to LSU’s first SEC Championship win since 2019.

“I wanted this from the day I stepped foot on campus,” she said. “For it to happen today and for all the fans to be here, a lot of the alumni to be here, I think it was just the perfect way for this to happen the first time. I truly think it wasn’t just a win for this team, but a win for everybody involved in LSU  gymnastics.”

And for Finnegan, who will compete this summer in Paris for the Philippines, the magnitude of the moment was one she was so grateful to share.

“It was just so special. We can share it with people on the floor, in the stands, with people back home. We’re just feeling so much tremendous support through not only today but this entire season.”

This was also a historic meet for Cal who finished in second, crushing their previous highest ranking of 7th. The Bears had the highest vault and bars scores of the competition. Especially in the last rotation, Cal went lights out, sticking all of their bars dismounts. While it wasn’t enough for the title this season, we know Cal will be back. The Bears broke so many records this season, and once again caught the eye of 1984 Olympic medalist and longtime ESPN (now retired) commentator Kathy Johnson-Clarke, and should be incredibly proud of their phenomenal year. 

Utah was right in the mix up until the final rotation, where Camie Winger, their first vaulter, sat her Yurchenko 1.5. Following Winger’s low score, Ella Zirbes had a wild landing with a big step on her vault that scored in the 9.6s. Because Utah had to count Zirbes’ score, they were essentially out of race for the title. Utah also had a season to be proud of, finishing third with a last minute head coaching change and after just narrowly making it to Fort Worth following a shaky performance at Regionals.

Florida was in fourth place throughout the competition, but were definitely still in the mix up until beam where an extremely uncharacteristic fall from Leanne Wong ment the Gators had to count a score in the 9.6s. Like all of the other teams, Florida should be incredibly proud of their season. Many doubted the Gators would advance to the National Championships because of their slower start to the season. Florida has a bright future ahead with so many spectacular freshmen that helped lead the Gators to their fourth place finish in Fort Worth.

Look for more from the 2024 NCAA Championships in the May/June issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine!

Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics



By Megan Roth

The field for Four on the Floor is set with LSU, Cal, Utah, and Florida advancing, in what is sure to be a close competition on Saturday! Additionally, individual nationals champions were crowned Thursday night in Fort Worth. AAI Award Winner Haleigh Bryant (LSU) won the All-Around, Anna Roberts (Stanford) won vault, Audrey Davis (Oklahoma) and Leanne Wong (Florida) tied for the bars title, Davis and Faith Torrez (Oklahoma) tied for the beam title, and Aleah Finnegan (LSU) won floor.

Scroll to see how it all played out!

SemiFinal I

The outcome of the first Semifinal was what was expected from the rankings. LSU and Cal advanced with substantial margins over Arkansas and Stanford, the two Cinderella teams in this competition. 

Arkansas, who returned to Nationals for the first time since 2018 and for the first time under head coach Jordyn Wieber, had a shaky opening beam rotation and had to count two scores in the 9.6s. Beam was where the team had hoped to capitalize and instead suddenly found themselves trailing in fourth after the first rotation. Following that, the Razorback’s performances on the other events were solid, but did not score high enough to advance. Similarly, while Stanford had a solid hit meet with a standout All-Around performance from Anna Roberts who scored 39.6375 and won the individual vault title with a 9.950, their 197.0750 was not enough to overtake Cal or LSU. The Cardinal started the season ranked 52nd and finished in 5th. Both Stanford and Arkansas had incredible, record-breaking seasons and it was such a delight to watch them grow throughout. They’ll be back. Count on it.


Heading into Fort Worth, the sentiment seemed to be that No. 2 LSU could be the team to beat OU and finally take the crown they’ve been chasing and capture their first-ever national title as a team. They started out the meet with a vault rotation that had no stuck landings and looked to build as the meet progressed. The Tigers came back to improve their scores on each event, ending the meet with a 49.5875 on beam and a huge 49.7250 on floor with standout performances from their entire lineup. LSU finished the meet in first place with a score of 198.1125 sending them to finals and a possible place in history.

“We’re obviously thrilled to be back in the finals again for the second year in a row. It never gets old to advance to this point. I’m proud of how this team has done all year long,” said head coach Jay Clark.

While Cal did not go lights out in the way we’ve seen them at points in the season, the Bears did more than enough to advance to their first National Championship final in program history. As always, Mya Lauzon, who promised us preseason this team was going to shock a few people, delighted with a spectacular All-Around performance. The Bears will look for higher scores and big time gymnastics on beam and floor especially in order to win the national title on Saturday. 

“This is such a historic accomplishment for us,” Lauzon said. “We just performed with joy and freedom. That’s all we needed to do to make it to (Saturday), and that’s exactly what we did today. It’s such an amazing feeling to make it to Day 2 for the first time in history. We are just going to bring it and have a lot of fun.”

SemiFinal II

If you asked for chaos in the National Semifinals, chaos is what you got here. Oklahoma, the six-time NCAA Champions and heavy favorites to win the title, were eliminated, leaving the field for Four on the Floor much more open than previously expected.

As the first routine in the meet, Faith Torrez shockingly sat her Yurchenko 1.5. Kiera Wells followed up with a strong vault, scoring 9.9, but the Sooners weren’t able to continue the momentum. Jordan Bowers and Kat LeVasseur both underrotated their vaults and had to take multiple big steps back for scores of 9.450 and 9.375 respectively. In the 5th spot, Hannah Scheible hit her vault for a 9.875. Audrey Davis was substituted into the lineup at the last minute and hit her vault, but with a big lunge forward, scoring 9.725. The Sooners put up just a 48.3250 and were more than a point out of third place after the first rotation. According to those in the arena, Oklahoma stuck every one of their vaults in the four minute touch. The Sooners were very clearly rattled in this rotation, and everyone in the area was as well, seeing one of the most dominant teams in NCAA gymnastics history struggle so much. 

Meanwhile, Alabama, Utah, and Florida all had solid first rotations. Utah’s beam team went lights out, scoring 49.6375 with 9.95s from Abby Paulson and Maile O’Keefe. Alabama put up a 49.4875 on bars and Florida scored 49.4500 on floor.

In the second rotation, Alabama took themselves completely out of contention to advance with four falls on beam, scoring 47.2500. Oklahoma came back from their vault performances to put up a big 49.6625 on bars. Davis, performing with her usual beautiful style and amplitude scored a 9.9625 that held up to tie for the event National Title. Florida and Utah both had solid 49.5+ second rotations. At the halfway point of the meet, it was looking like if Florida and Utah continued to hit, they would qualify for Four on the Floor. 

Oklahoma counted a fall on beam in the third rotation, which took away any chance of advancing to the National Final. Even with counting a score in the 9.2s Oklahoma still put up a 49.100 because their other four scores were 9.9375+. The Sooners rallied for a 49.5750 floor rotation to end the meet. Alabama came back from their disappointing beam rotation to hit stunning floor routines and solid vaults, but their four falls on beam meant they were out of contention to advance. Both teams came back from disappointing rotations with such a strong mentality and we salute all seniors for their spectacular careers. It was amazing to watch both teams cheer for the individuals rotating with them even after they knew they would not advance.

“The Sooners are human,” Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler told the media. “We have certainly worked for it, but on any given day, anything can happen. We haven’t counted a fall all year. We counted three today, or we basically counted three, so that was kind of the wall falling down.”

Utah and Florida both came through with hit routines in the last two rotations to clinch their spots in the National Finals. For both teams, there were moments in this meet where they were not perfect. Both teams had falls, but were able to drop them. However, in the chaos that this meet was, all Florida and Utah needed to do was hit and that was exactly what they did. Utah had a great final bars rotation, capped off by Alani Sabado’s 9.9, amazing for her coming after a fall in the regional final. Florida finished the meet on beam with confident performances. Florida’s lineups have been shifting throughout the season. Here, just seven gymnasts put up all 24 of Florida’s performances. 

“I feel like we just came in here and used all of our experience and time throughout the season in the gym,” Leanne Wong said. “Leaving it all there and doing the best we could to move on to Day 2. I’m just really happy the Florida Gators are moving on. I think we’re just fired up. All season, we’ve been building from the bottom to where we are now, and we’re in an amazing place.”

With Oklahoma eliminated, the National Final will be neck and neck between the four remaining teams, who all scored within 0.400 of each other in the Semifinals. Tune in to ABC at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday for the NCAA Preshow followed by the competition at 4 p.m.  to see who will be crowned with the National Title. 

Most notably, for Cal and LSU, this would be their first national title in program history. Utah has not won the title since 1995 and Florida most recently won in 2015. And none of the head coaches of these teams have won a national title, meaning it’s guaranteed that a head coach will win their first national title on Saturday. 

Semifinals also marked emotional farewell performances from several student-athletes who have forever made a lasting impact on their respective programs, coaches, teammates and schools. Here’s a few moments we loved – look for more in our May/June issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine.

Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics

Subscribe Here to Inside Gymnastics magazine!

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Sign Up and Save!

Sign Up and Save!

Sign Up for our newsletter and receive a code for 20% off anything on!

SUCCESS! Use code "NEWS" for a 20% discount on!